How do Teachers Strikes Affect Students and Families

It seems as though every three to five years there is a teachers’ strike in some major city.  Teachers are asking for reduced class sizes, pay increases, better supplies, or some other thing.  While anybody who has spent time as a teacher or just observing classrooms for any length of time will agree that most of what teachers’ unions are asking for is reasonable, these strikes are about more than just union demands.  In many ways, teachers’ strikes affect not just students but their families as well.  Sadly, most of them are negative.  Following are just a few of those ways.

Loss of Education Time

Time is the one commodity human beings can never make up.  So every day a teacher is out of a classroom is a day of education lost.  When 30,000 Chicago teachers went on strike in September 2012, eight days of school were lost for about 350,000 students.  Those eight days will never be regained.  And while, over the course of a year, that material may be covered, it may end up being covered too quickly for many students who just won’t recover from that loss of time.

Lack of Classroom Continuity

Even in the cases where substitute teachers are found and placed in classrooms, the instruction being given to students suffers.  When teachers go out on planned vacations or are sick, lesson plans are often left to guide substitutes on what to teach and how much progress to make.  When teachers go on strike, those lesson plans go missing.  Substitutes then have to fly by the seat of their pants.  This often leads to days of little or no instruction, as well as material that is repeated.  Again, this is lost education time that can never be made up.

“Latch Key” Kids or Increased Childcare Expenses

When teachers strike, it is not always older students that are affected.  When elementary school teachers go on strike, elementary school students are forced to be somewhere other than school.  In households where both parents work or there is only a single parent that has to work, this means that student is at home – and unsafe idea for many young students – in some sort of daycare, or even at the workplace of a parent.  Children at home in many cases will waste their days in front of a TV or video game, and many times they will eat poorly.  Daycare is expensive, and in homes where the money is already tight, a teachers’ strike can cost a family an extra $100 a day.  Children at a workplace can be another issue entirely, one that can cause additional stress or even cost an employed parent their job.

Change in Perception of Teachers

One of the most devastating impacts of a strike is the way parents and students view teachers.  As in the case of the Chicago strike in 2012, a lot of what the union was asking for was legitimate and necessary.  But there were other items that made teachers seem selfish and even greedy.  Teachers hold a special place in society because of what they do.  But when students and families see a teacher on strike because they don’t want to pay increased healthcare premiums or want guaranteed raises each year, there is a change in how those teachers are viewed.  When that perception of a teacher becomes negative, the already difficult job of a teacher becomes even harder.

Teachers never go on strike for the fun of it.  There are often grievances with the school district that have been present for years that eventually result in a strike.  And again, most of the grievances appear reasonable and logical.  But a strike is a last-ditch effort to bring both sides to the negotiating table.  It is an extreme measure, and one that affects the school district and teachers, as well as students and their families.  When teachers strike, everyone seems to lose.